How to cook with cactus and 5 ways to enjoy it – from water to tortillas

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Eat cacti? For people living in Mexico and the Southwest, the answer is a definite yes. Nopal, also known as prickly pear, grows there in abundance and its health benefits and versatility have made it a popular household ingredient.

The nopal is in fact the cushion of the prickly pear. The thorny green cactus produces fruit between spring and summer. The flesh of the cactus has a citrus flavor and is used in dishes in Mexico and the southwestern United States, where it is sautéed, fried and roasted. Nopal is high in fiber and antioxidants, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it has been shown in some studies to lower blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes. It is also believed to be a “cure” for a hangover when in a hurry.

A certified organic nopales farm in Mexico that uses traditional farming techniques.Holistic Nemi

“I love nopales,” Maria Covarrubias, owner of hot sauce company Cien Chiles, told TODAY Food. Covarrubias grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, where each household prepares nopales differently, she said.

Covarrubias prefers to buy fresh nopal – with the tips already removed, but you can cut them – although you can also find it in cans. She grew up eating it in a salad similar to pico de gallo with lime juice, tomatoes and onion.

Hector Saldivar, founder of the Tia Lupita grain-free tortilla and chip brand, grew up eating nopales daily. “My mom would cut the nopales into small cubes and mix them with eggs for breakfast,” Saldivar said TODAY. “My best memory was eating them as a sweet snack. Mexican candy stores mixed nopales with prunes, apricots, guava, quince, and tamarind to make a paste sprinkled with chili powder.

Nopal cactus salad prepared in a market in Tlalpan, Mexico City, Mexico.Sergio Mendoza Hochmann / Getty Images

If you’re new to cooking with nopales, be aware that they release a slime (similar to okra) when heated. Boiling or sautéing the nopales will help extract the mud, Covarrubias said, and it will either cook or drip.

In addition to cooking with cactus, there are also new food products that use the spiky plant, like Vanessa Hudgens’ new cactus water. Saldivar started offering cactus products in 2019 at Tia Lupita. It means a lot to him, he said, to incorporate the ingredient he grew up eating. “It is not only an opportunity to share my roots, my traditions and my culture, but also the chance to present an ingredient that can have a good impact on the sustainability of our health,” said Saldivar.

Snack company Nemi Holisticks is teaming up with farmer nopales Francisco to source cacti.Holistic Nemi

In fact, Regina Trillo, founder of the Nemi chip brand, grew up in Mexico City and considers the cactus “the most exquisite representation of Mexico.” First, there is the fact that the cactus itself is featured on the Mexican flag and is strongly associated with Aztec mythology. Then there’s the fact that it’s incredibly tough. “This resilience speaks a lot to me about Mexican culture. Not only in Mexico, but also in immigration, ”said Trillo, who worked in immigration law. “It is through resilience to heat, without water, in harsh conditions, that we will thrive. We will continue to grow. We will find out. “

From crisps to drinks, here are five delicious treats to try:

Tia Lupita tortilla chips and hot sauce.Tia Lupita

Whether or not you’re on a grain-free diet, Tia Lupita’s Cactus Tortillas are worth a try.

Made from a blend of cactus, cassava, and okra flours, they’re relatively low in carbs yet still sweet like the flour tortillas so many people adore. Tia Lupita also offers a variety of cactus chips in flavors like sea salt and chipotle if you can’t get enough.

Nemi’s chip sticks are made with nopal.Nemi

What to do when you cannot eat crisps due to dietary restrictions? If you are Regina Trillo, you combine your love of crisps with your love of cactus. The result is Nemi, deliciously crispy stick-shaped chips that come in flavors such as Spirulina Lime and Chili Turmeric. There is also a churro crisps if you have a sweet tooth.

Nopalera manufactures Mexican plants for the bath and the body.Nopalera

Okay, you can’t eat soap (please don’t eat soap!), But it’s fair to think of Nopalera’s soap as a treat for your hands. Nopalera is Sandra Velasquez’s homage to her Mexican culture. The daughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up near the Mexican border in California, Velasquez ate nopal as a child, but also understood that it was good for the skin. Based on cactus, shea butter and lemongrass oil, this soap is luminous and pleasant to the touch.

The real Nopal makes water with the fruit of the prickly pear.real nopal

It is not only the body of the prickly pear that is edible, but also the prickly pear itself. True Nopal, which was founded in 2013, purees the fruit of the prickly pear and combines it with water and other flavors (like pineapple and lime) for an electrolyte-rich drink and in antioxidants and relatively low in sugar.

Pricklee waters are made with prickly pear puree.Pricklee

For another hydrating option, consider Pricklee. Pricklee is the brainchild of five friends who are also pharmacists. They loved how thirst-quenching cactus water is, but also how durable it is. Pricklee waters are made with prickly pear mash and come in three antioxidant-rich flavors, including prickly pear, mango and ginger, and strawberry hibiscus.


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